EDIT: we have had a lot of feedback about this story, both in the comments below and on social media. Please read our Statement on “Help To Work”, which we hope clarifies some points and answers some of the questions being asked.
In June we were approached to be part of the Community Work Placement Scheme. The scheme, run by Seetec and part of the Department for Work and Pension’s Help to Work programme places people who have been long term unemployed into a work placement. However the stipulation is that the placement needs to make a clear contribution to the community, hence approaches to third sector and not for profit organisations like us who are already providing direct community focused services.
The Help to Work Programme
We were well aware that the Help to Work programme when announced had stirred up a range of feelings (the most contentious issue being that the continuation of JSA payments were reliant on individuals signing up and fulfilling the work placement on a voluntary basis) however like it or not the programme was being implemented and therefore what was needed was a range of good quality placements – where people would be given a warm and positive welcome into work. As an organisation that has a strong track record in providing Apprentice/Trainee and work experience opportunities it seemed a natural fit to be involved.
Three weeks later Kieran and Nikki joined us and began their six month placement (or less if they were to find work in the meantime).
“We hoped we knew a bit of what to expect having regularly welcomed people who’ve been out of work for a long while or in many cases where we’ve been their first job”, explained Michelle Smitten, Manager of our Employment Access Skills and Training Department. “We understand that being out of work eats away at your self belief, the constant job searching and application process, putting yourself through the interviews (if you’re lucky enough to get that far) and then the knock backs! It’s tough. Then there’s the nagging feeling as time goes on that your skills are getting rusty”.
We knew there would be a need for nurturing but what was different about these placements was that the people weren’t being given the same element of choice whether they came or not. “We knew this was going to be more of a rigid approach” says Michelle. “Usually people come to us because they choose to and see the potential of what work experience can bring but nurturing someone who doesn’t want to be hear could be more tricky”.
We needn’t have worried though!
Our experience has been a really positive one as both Kieran and Nikki have been enthusiastic and receptive from the start. “Yes they’re both doing this on a purely voluntary basis and they have to follow a fairly strict set of rules, such as working a certain number of hours but there’s never been a hint of – I’m being made to come but don’t really want to be here” says Michelle. In fact we’ve been so impressed with their work ethic and their ability to accept the change and adapt to new ways of working skills that we’ve already decided we want this to be more than a six month arrangement.
“We had one of those lightbulb moments” jokes Michelle. “I suddenly thought how about taking them on as Apprentices, then we both gain. We get to keep them as a designated resource for 12 months and they get to complete a qualification, get a bit more money and the holy grail – to be able to say they’re employed!”. So we spoke to St Paul’s Community Development Trust who provide us with our other Apprentices and are always on the look out for promising new recruits. On Monday Kieran and Nikki became fully fledged Apprentices.
“It doesn’t stop there though” says Michelle. “We’re now in a position to make the two placement opportunities available again to the Community Work Placement Scheme”.
A bit about Keiran & Nikki:
Kieran had left school with a good range and level of qualifications and had gone onto college to do a Business Administration course. Throughout the time at college he’d been looking for work though. “I applied for lots of jobs, it wasn’t just a handful it was ten’s! I got a few interviews out of it but it felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere”.
In Nikki‘s case it was a little different; “I didn’t get on that well at school but hoped college would suit me better. I did a few courses and then the Job Centre suggested I try work placements. One led me into a cleaning job but no sooner had I started than they said the work had dried up and laid me off”. Although both desperate to work they found themselves back at square one and due to having been claiming benefits for some time they were classed as long term unemployed, so found themselves on the Help to Work programme.
“I was offered a choice of placements so opted for Gateway, I wasn’t given a lot of detail about the organisation but what I did have I liked the sound of “, explains Kieran. As for Nikki; ” I was really nervous that first morning” she says; “I knew so little about what would be expected of me but I had liked the people I met at interview and there was a nice feel about the place”.
In the past weeks Kieran and Nikki have sampled various elements of our work. They’ve taken and processed referrals, they’ve helped with all the preparations for our Gala and now they even take a turn on reception which has meant getting to grips with a telephone switchboard and learning everyone’s names. “It was nerve racking at first,” says Kieran, “but I’m learning to relax a bit more”. Nikki adds, “by the end of the second week I was feeling much more settled. I’d learnt more about what we as an organisation do and made a few friends”.
So how did it feel when they were offered an Apprenticeship? “It seemed like something out of the dark”, responds Kieran. “It was unexpected as I’ve never been given an opportunity like this. I was so pleased and happy to take it”. And what of the future – well the next 12 months are a given but Kieran responds, “I think I’d like to carry on working here if possible but if not I can take the skills I’ve learnt somewhere else”. “At the moment I feel the same,” adds Nikki, “but I guess I now have options and I should keep them open”.